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The pandemic

Australia’s endless lockdown

Mounted police patrolling Bondi Beach. Jonathan Alpeyrie/Bloomberg/Getty Images

“Everything you’ve heard about Australia and coronavirus is true,” says Gideon Rozner in The Daily Telegraph. Sydney has been in full lockdown since June, triggered by a mere 82 cases. People on the streets in New South Wales have been told not to be “too friendly” to avoid transmission. A rural council dog shelter put down 15 dogs rather than routinely transfer them and risk “a potential health hazard”. Our government’s obsession with “zero Covid” is “destroying us”.

Strangely, these extraordinary restrictions remain popular, says Alexander Downer in The Spectator. As Clive James once said: “The problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts, but that so many are descended from prison officers.” True, the lockdown has saved many lives – fewer than 50 people have died with Covid this year – but the Australian budget surplus is now nearly a $1 trillion debt. We need “a way out”.

Australia will only reach that exit when 70%-80% of the population has been double-vaccinated, PM Scott Morrison said this week. Thanks to the “vaccine strollout”, that figure currently stands at just 32%. But instead of giving us “effusive rah-rah talk” about “adjusting our mindsets”, Morrison needs to level with us, says Shaun Carney in The Sydney Morning Herald. Were we to open up as the UK did in July and let the Delta variant rip, we’d have 37 daily deaths and nearly 12,000 cases. Australia must decide how many people it’s willing to sacrifice to “the mortuary or the horrors of long Covid”.

It’s just as crazy in New Zealand, says Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times. There the “pious and hugely irritating” PM, Jacinda Ardern, imposed the most severe lockdown possible when a single Covid case was found last week. She has already turned the country into a “mysterious socialist hermit kingdom” by shutting borders over the past 18 months. Yet only one in five New Zealanders has been vaccinated. When the virus does inevitably strike the islands, “it will kill”.

We Kiwis can be “sleepy little hobbits”, says Max Rashbrooke in The Guardian. But New Zealand’s per-person Covid death rate is nearly 400 times lower than the UK’s, unemployment is 4% and our economy recovered more quickly than Britain’s. Ardern has made mistakes – notoriously, our vaccine rollout is the slowest in the developed world. We also need an exit plan and a date to open our borders – but only once global vaccination rates “are sky-high”. Because, from where we are, learning to live with the virus, Boris Johnson-style, looks rather like “learning to die with it”.